Saudi king blames Assad for rise of IS

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RIYADH: Saudi King Salman accused Syrian President Bashar al Assad on Wednesday of having aided the rise of the militant Islamic State group and called for a political settlement with moderate forces to end the war in the country.

The solution would be to form “a transitional government made up of moderate opposition forces, ensuring the unity of Syrians and the departure of foreign forces and terrorist organisations”, the king said in an annual speech to the Saudi Shura Council.

These organisations “could not have found fertile ground in Syria, had it not been for the Syrian regime’s policies, which have exterminated hundreds of thousands… and displaced millions” of people, he said.

Saudi Arabia “calls for a political solution to end Syria’s crisis,” said King Salman who made only a brief appearance at the council.

He read only part of the speech, the entire text of which was later released by the official SPA news agency.

The Saudi ruler also said he had ordered economic reforms to diversify sources of income and reduce high dependence on oil following a sharp drop in crude prices.

“Our vision for economic reform is to increase the efficiency of public spending, utilise economic resources and boost returns from state investment.

“I have directed the Council of Economic and Development Affairs to devise the necessary plans, policies and programmes to achieve that,” he told the consultative council.

Oil income accounts for more than 90 per cent of public revenues in Saudi Arabia which is the world’s largest exporter of the commodity.

It is facing an unprecedented budget crunch as the price of oil has dropped by more than 60pc since mid-2014.

The king said the country carried out a large number of mega infrastructure projects and boosted its fiscal reserves in the past several years when oil prices were high.

The size of the fiscal buffers had enabled it to overcome the consequences from the sharp decline in oil revenues, he said, adding that development projects had not been affected.

Saudi Arabia is projected to post a record budget deficit of around $130 billion for this year, the International Monetary Fund says.

The kingdom, which has been pumping around 10.4 million barrels a day, has withdrawn funds from its foreign reserves and also issued bonds to finance the budget deficit.

At the end of October, its reserves fell to $644bn from $732bn at the end of last year.

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